Sheila Bridegam was devastated when she realized the object of her time and dedication was a casualty of Hurricane Ian.
“When I saw the water on the (security) cameras I broke down and started crying,” she said of the damage to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida Thrift Store, at 2054 FL-436 #140 in Winter Park. “It’s just my heart and soul because I believe in the Boys & Girls Club and what we do, so it was just heartbreaking.”
As the store manager, Bridegam knew that any down time would impact the funding that the retail outlet provides for the organization. And a significant loss of inventory would take a long time to replace.
The shop is one of several businesses in the Casselton Corners plaza that sustained damage from the flooding of a nearby retention pond. Bridegam and her employees knew the future was uncertain, but recovery had to wait until the water receded.
“We had two feet of this category three water, so we had to wait for it to recede,” she said. “We met down at the store and we were looking at the damage. And when you walked in the smell was indescribable.”
Nearly 80% of the inventory was damaged, creating a huge cleanup effort. The recovery team worked for three days, filling 16 roll-off dumpsters with unusable items. The remainder was transported to the organization’s Sanford warehouse for inspection.
The flooding has receded, but water remains trapped in the walls and was estimated to travel an additional two feet beyond the flooded areas. A total of four feet of wall structure needs to be cut away for proper mitigation, and the flooring will be removed.
When restoration costs were tallied, the board of directors made the initial decision to close the thrift store. However, the course was reversed due to Bridegam’s determination, and a letter.
“It was really beautiful, and I think it went a long way to changing their minds,” said Bridegam of a letter penned by her daughter, Crystal, that made the case for keeping the store open. The efforts and sentiment were soon backed up by the community as long-time donors and customers began pitching in to make up for the losses.
“We received all these donations in the last two weeks,” said Bridegam while surveying five pallets of clothing, housewares, and toys. “I plan to be able to take in donations to get us to get restocked so that when we do reopen, we’ve got a good inventory.”
Restoration work will begin the week of Nov. 7, and an official reopening is slated for mid-December with hours slightly skewed from the original schedule.
“We’ll be open seven days, but we’ll lose an hour during the week because of staffing,” said Bridegam, adding that losing employees was another painful result of the flood.
“We went from 12 employees to five,” she said. “Most of them were laid off when they announced the closing, but I managed to keep my drivers and one of the assistants who can fill in for me. We’ll have to make due for now.”
Despite the difficulties, Bridegam insists on looking at the bright side. Renovations will include a concrete floor that’s more suited to the warehouse-style facility, and additional shelf space.
“The community was really energized when they heard what happened, they’re what make this all worthwhile,” she said. “And maybe we can get the back wall painted a different color, that would be a win.”
The thrift store is currently seeking an assortment of items including clothing, books, media, store fixtures, housewares, tools, home décor, and boxes. Furniture pickups within a 15-mile radius of the shop are available on Mondays. Donations can be dropped off at the store, Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“The best way the community can help is by spreading the word, letting people know that we need these donations,” said Bridegam. “That will help us replenish our inventory so that when we do open, we are ready to go.”